Archive for the 'Peacemakers' Category

“…Study War No More…”

Recently our grandson graduated from Coast Guard Intelligence School. A large delegation of his family (including Dianna and me) attended the event. The trip over Veterans Day weekend took us near historical sites from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. Our family found ourselves experiencing an extended US history seminar  during the weekend of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I on November 11, 1918.

In this country, Armistice Day evolved into our Veterans Day holiday. We honor all who have served in our country’s armed forces. The church where we worshiped that Sunday recognized veterans who were present. Many religious and secular events throughout the weekend offered veterans well-deserved recognition and appreciation for their service.

As a rule, I don’t believe patriotic observances belong in Sunday worship.   The church is not a patriotic organization. But the 100th anniversary of “the war to end all war” and “make the world safe for democracy” offered a significant “teachable moment” for the church. How do followers of the Prince of Peace manage the tension between being citizens of a nation (USA, Mexico, etc.) and citizens of God’s Kingdom? How does the church exist in a particular place and time and also honor our commitment to Christ that transcends all human and national boundaries? The church where we worshiped on Veterans Day recognized and thanked the veterans present. They remembered and gave thanks for those who had died in combat; they asked God to bless and protect those currently serving. AND THAT WAS ALL. 

The teaching moment came and went–in that congregation and, I’m afraid, in thousands of others. When the church’s patriotic observance merely mirrors secular ceremonies, we’ve failed to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ whom we call “Prince of Peace”. When we fail to share our message of transforming revolutionary hope for all humanity and all creation, we fail to be the Church. The difference between the Church of Jesus Christ and the service at the cemetery or the Legion Hall is, after all–JESUS CHRIST!

I believe an authentically Christian observance would move from grateful remembrance toward Proclamation of Good News: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15). “Repent” means far more than “Sorry.” It means “Turn around. Choose a new direction. ” “Repent/Turn Around” is Good News because it affirms that we can turn. We can change. We can become New Creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). What if Veterans Day worship invited all within reach to turn away from “studying war” toward “the things that lead to peace…” (Luke 19:42 CEB). We learned on our trip that approximately 650,000 people had died in the Civil War–about 2% of the nation’s population! This chart documents war’s death toll over many centuries. Some figures are careful approximations, of course. But these hundreds of millions of senseless deaths tell the shameful story of our continuing inhumanity to one another. More than 13 million people died in World War I, 69 million in World War II–and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. These figures include all God’s precious children who’ve died as a result of war–not only soldiers, but all the noncombatants who are warfare’s “collateral damage”. No, I didn’t add up the grand total. I didn’t want to know that number.  Let us repent of this horrific obscenity–before “studying war” is the death of us all! Let us rather share, pray, and work toward God’s dream for God’s world:

“They will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.
All will sit underneath their own grapevines, under their own fig trees. There will be no one to terrify them;              for the mouth of the LORD of heavenly forces has spoken.”—Micah 4:3-4 (CEB)

A faith-full Veterans Day observance might move from Remembrance to Repentance to Renewal. As we said, the call to “Repent” is hollow without a meaningful possibility to which we can “Turn”.  Visionary Easter faith sees possibility even for folks like us who thought “studying war” was our only option. Easter faith sees light-years beyond “thanks for your service” to the Risen Christ’s promise that “I am making all things new…” (Revelation 21:5) When did we last proclaim that Good News on Veterans Day or Memorial Day? The promise sounds wonderfully, impossibly good. We don’t dare believe it. We dare not turn fully toward the Light of God’s New Day. We dare not “pray without ceasing” for the prophet’s dream of peace to fill the earth. We close our ears to Jesus’ disappointed “O ye of little faith” (Matthew 8:26). We offer no altar call for peacemakers in the spirit of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” . (Matthew 5:9) Altar calls, after all, are risky business. What if nobody steps up–even me??

This turned out to be about much more than Veterans Day, didn’t it? Like so much of our Christian life, growth means choosing between the status quo we know and love and the “new thing” just coming into view. What if we believe those ancient prophets? What if we make their inspired vision our own? What if we energetically pursue the blessing of becoming peacemakers? Most of all, how do we get from here to there–and invite our neighbors?

Rick Love is a pastor whose ministry invites Christians, Jews, and Muslims to the same table–for coffee and tea, a good meal that observes everyone’s dietary restrictions, and honest discussions about what they have in common, where they differ, and how they can live together peacefully. Rick says Romans 12:18 is the key verse for practical peacemaking in the Spirit of Jesus: “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” (CEB) In this video, he talks about what he calls “Peacemaking for Dummies”.

The implications of that verse would take me at least another thousand words–but not now! It will start a journey from business-as-usual to repentance toward renewal and re-creation. I invite you to spend some time with this sentence. Focus on each phrase. Start a conversation with one or a few others about how this might impact your life and relationships. If you dare, include folks whose worldviews differ from yours. Try not to yell! Expect to be surprised by what’s “possible”; by how “best” your “ability” becomes when it’s Spirit-empowered; by the depth of the “peace” you share; by the way your life is enriched as your circle of “all people” grows. `

 

 

 

Is It Time Yet???

Yesterday I drove past the Mandalay Bay shooting site on the Las Vegas Strip. Almost a month later the memorial site appears lovingly cared for. A steady stream of visitors includes families and friends of the victims, local residents, and tourists touched by the tragedy. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo still appears regularly on local news shows with updates on the continuing investigation. He looks a little less tired than he did immediately after the event. The concert site remains an active crime scene closed to the public indefinitely. The yellow crime-scene tape reminds passersby of the havoc wreaked by one very sick man.

As soon as the news broke that night, we heard calls for action to address our nation’s continuing epidemic of gun violence. My initial reaction echoed Old Testament laments: “How long, O Lord?” (Psalms 13:1; 79:5; 89:46; 90:13; Isaiah 6:11). When is enough enough? But many people said, “This is not the time. First we need to grieve and show respect for the victims and their families.”  We did need time and space to process the flood of emotions we’d experienced. That’s happened very meaningfully in the Las Vegas community and across the nation.

Now it’s been almost a month. Is it time yet? If not now, when? How long, O Lord? The news cycle’s moved on to Republican infighting, the World Series (Go Dodgers!), and more. How long, O Lord? A month? Three months? A year? Today I learned that more than 800 people have died of gunshot wounds since October 1! “How long” was too long for them. Oh, I know. Anything we’d done in the last three weeks couldn’t have prevented any of those deaths. But the sooner we act, the sooner more people can live safely and without fear.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy (D) has re-introduced legislation calling for comprehensive background checks for gun buyers. Murphy’s been fighting this battle since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. While gun owners and the general public support the concept, Murphy acknowledges his bill has a slim chance of passage due primarily to NRA opposition. He’s also clear that his bill is one small piece of a vast complex puzzle. Other puzzle pieces include mental health resources, a more balanced and up-to-date approach to the Second Amendment, less glorification of guns and violence in entertainment and popular culture, and reduced availability of military-grade weapons and accessories.

I DON’T WANT TO TAKE AWAY YOUR HANDGUN, RIFLE, OR SHOTGUN YOU USE FOR PERSONAL PROTECTION, HUNTING, AND/OR TARGET SHOOTING. I do want you to consider the tension between your freedom to own and use guns and the rights of everyone else (including the 2500+ shooting victims, approximately 840 of whom died)  since October 1, 2017. One piece of this complex puzzle is many, many honest and respectful conversations between folks with drastically differing views. That will require us to set aside our preconceptions and prejudices, listen and share respectfully, try not to yell, and find common ground.

For followers of Jesus, I suggest that conversation includes the relationship between our daily walk with Jesus and our relationship with guns. Are we willing to accept reasonable regulation? Are we willing to speak out and vote against the NRA’s absolutist stance, and support politicians who do so? How do we reconcile our relationship with guns with Jesus’ call to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45) and to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)? As we said earlier, this dialog about guns, gun use, and violence in our culture will be more of an ultramarathon than a sprint. But we’ll never finish if we don’t get to the starting line and begin the race together.

2015 saw 372 mass shootings in this country. (A mass shooting is commonly defined as one in which four or more people die.) In December 2015 a group of Christian leaders gathered to reflect on this record violence. Out of that gathering came the Advent Declaration on Gun Violence. It represents a considered Christian approach to the issue. Whether or not you agree with every detail, I suggest it as a useful starting point for dialog around the issue with folks in your church. Of course I invite you to sign it if you feel led to do so. I have. And I won’t declare you unchristian if you choose not to! But I hope you’ll take a serious look at it, read and reflect on the scripture references, and invite some other folks to consider it with you.

It’s been almost a month. Countless “thoughts and prayers” have been offered for the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting and other events. Is it time now for meaningful prayer and action to impact this nation’s epidemic gun violence? I know at least 800 folks–probably close to a thousand by the end of this month–who’d say a resounding “Yes!”–if only they could.

PS 1) Here are links to blogs I wrote in response to mass shootings in 2015: “Response to Roseburg” and “Real Live Hope”.

2) Where have I been all this time? This retired United Methodist has been serving as interim pastor for an ELCA Lutheran church. Great learning experience for all involved!

“How Long, O Lord??” An Advent Lament

US gun crime in 2015 (Figures up to 3 December)

353 Mass shootings        62shootings at schools

12,223people killed in gun incidents       24,722people injured in gun incidents

Source: Shooting tracker, Gun Violence Archive

  • How long will we tolerate nearly-daily mass shootings in our nation and fail to take meaningful action to stop them?
  • How long will we watch processions of victims being transported to the hospital or the morgue—and accept such tragic scenes as the “new normal”?
  • How long will we watch grieving families weep and mourn their loved ones—while praying that our community isn’t next—but do little or nothing to make a difference?

“ If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!”  Isaiah 64:1 CEB

  • How long will politicians let their fear of the NRA keep them from enacting sensible regulations regarding gun ownership?
  • How long will we fail to require licensing and insurance for gun ownership and users similar to that required for other lethal equipment such as motor vehicles?
  • How long will we entertain the ridiculous claim that assault rifles and similar weapons of war are normal household appliances, toys, or sporting equipment?
  • How long will we believe the lethal fiction that we’re safer with more guns in more people’s hands in more crowded public places?

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  • How long will we allow the condemnation of all Muslims for the actions of a few hyper-extremists?
  • How long will we allow misguided policies and divisive rhetoric to become recruiting tools for future terrorists?
  • How long will we tolerate the cycle of mass shootings followed by universal hand-ringing followed by failure to take meaningful action?
  • How long will we talk past one another instead of with one  another and demonize those with whom we disagree?
  • How long will the words of Scripture proclaim our continuing collective insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results): “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.”? Proverbs 26:11 NRSV
  • How long will we continue to slash mental-health funding that can provide life-changing treatment for disturbed people who might otherwise become “active shooters”?
  • How long will people of faith trust everything and everyone that promises safety and security more than we trust the One who is “…Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”? (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)
  • How long will our spiritual leaders remain fearfully silent or at best timidly indifferent regarding guns and the glorification of violence in our culture? (HINT—Christmas Day is too long!
  • How long will we offer “thoughts and prayers” for victims of violence divorced from any commitment to transformative action toward preventing future tragedies?
  • How long will we whine that “God Isn’t Fixing This” when the real issue is our choice (passive or active) not to collaborate with God in healing brokenness and building a new world?

God Isn't Fixing This

  • How long will we who follow Jesus mirror our society’s attitudes regarding war, violence, and the use of force rather than embodying a countercultural alternative of strong, assertive, nonviolent love in the spirit of Jesus? In other words, how long will Christians living in the USA choose to be Americans first and Christians second? Fuller Theological Seminary professor Kutter Callaway writes about renouncing his Second Amendment rights. I hereby renounce mine. It’s time for followers of Jesus to rediscover  and reclaim our peace-making tradition found in the early church, the Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren,and more recently Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, the Sojourners movement, and others. More along this line soon.
  • How long will we talk and sing about Incarnation (God’s love embodied in Jesus) while failing to become God’s instruments through whom Redeeming Love becomes physically present to all neighbors within our reach?

“The Word became flesh and blood, “and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 MSG

RESPONSE TO ROSEBURG–PEACE-FULL ACTION

Last Thursday shock and horror at 2015’s forty-fifth school shooting shook our nation. That’s a horrific pace of more than one a week. “Prayers for Oregon” memes flooded Facebook. A visibly shaken and angry President Obama spoke to the press and the nation about our collective failure to take meaningful action to stop this deadly trend. Self-interested parties on all sides immediately restated their long-held polarized positions. Mr. Obama’s sentiments echoed the many spiritual leaders who called challenged us to move beyond prayer to action. Sixteen years after Columbine, ten years after Red Lake, eight years after Virginia Tech, the millions of words we’ve thrown at the issue as we’ve talked around and past each other have failed to prevent 142 school shootings since Sandy Hook.          blessed-are-the-peacemakers_t_nv

Yes, for God’s sake and the sake of potential future shooting victims, let’s move beyond prayer to action. “Beyond prayer” doesn’t mean not praying. For me it means maximizing the synergy of active prayer and prayerful action. Prayer informs, shapes, and fuels our action. Action drives us deeper into prayer as we seek God’s will while we are active in many different ways and settings. A colleague of mine shared this prayer on her Facebook page: God of love, you give us minds to think, hearts to love, and a soul which longs to know you. Help us listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (Rev. Sharon Ragland, 10/3/15) 

Beyond prayer to action—what action? Let us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace covenant together to return to our roots as a peace-full people. Let us take seriously Jesus’ call to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), to love our enemies, (Matthew 5:44-45), to choose reconciliation and restoration over retribution (Matthew 5:17-48). Let us grow together into a peace-full people marked by peace-full words, deeds, thoughts, and prayer. We talk constantly about personal “peace with God” and “peace of mind”. But we haven’t learned (been willing to learn? been taught?) a robust biblical understanding of Shalom that embraces all human activity and indeed the whole creation. Peace-full people refuse to isolate personal “peace with God” from God’s continuing mission to bring peace and wholeness to all Creation. As long as any of God’s precious children are caught up in chaos and violence, my personal peace as a follower of Jesus, a peace-maker, is disturbed.

The Hebrew word “Shalom” is frequently translated as “peace”. But the word’s complex meanings include “peace”, “soundness”, prosperity”, “wholeness”, and more. Eirene” is the predominant Greek word for “peace” in the New Testament. It carries Shalom’s richness and enriches it further with insights like this: “Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.” (Ephesians 2:14-16 CEB) Yes, the passage speaks about the Christian community. But that process of reconciling a broken human family is God’s mission for the Church and God’s dream for all humankind (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

Peace-full action by a peace-full people involves (re)discovering and (re)committing to peacemaking and “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). What a stark (and welcome) contrast to “…the violence which permeates our culture…”! United Methodist Bishop Robert Hoshibata wrote to members of our Desert Southwest Annual Conference shortly after the Roseburg shooting. One of his suggested steps “beyond prayer” was Bible Study. He lifted up a three-session study, “Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities”. Of course three sessions are just enough to start the conversation. But no journey begins without that first step. Let us also rediscover the peacemaking tradition in Christianity. It includes early Christians who found service in the Roman army incompatible with their faith; historic peace churches like the Mennonites and Quakers, and more contemporary advocates of nonviolence including Thomas Merton. Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., William Sloane Coffin, and many more. Let us reclaim our fundamental identity as peacemakers and reconcilers in the Spirit of Jesus. We will experience invaluable “on-the-job training” as we share deeply-held convictions, seek common ground and shared truth, and struggle to understand and love brothers and sisters with whom we disagree passionately.

Our beginning conversations about how we follow Jesus as peacemakers in this society will lead us into deeper dialog regarding our attitudes toward war and the military; the depiction of guns and violence in contemporary culture; about whether allowing our children playing video games (or watching us play) where the object is to kill a human being (even a cartoon) is compatible with becoming peace-full people; about capital punishment and prison reform; about how we live peacefully in our congregations with diverse and sometimes polarized opinions; and much more.

Bishop Hoshibata’s letter quoted the hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory:

“Cure thy children’s warring madness, bend our pride to thy control;

Shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul…”

Bishop Bob (as he invites us to call him) stopped there, but I’m sure he’d support adding the final verse:

“Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.

Let the search for thy salvation be our glory evermore.

 Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore,

Serving thee whom we adore.”

May Harry Emerson Fosdick’s words open us to “…listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

Give Peace a Chance

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9 NRSV)

Early last Friday morning a heavily-armed gunman in full battle dress killed twelve innocent people and wounded 59 more at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Shock waves from his senseless violence rocked families and friends of the victims, that community, our nation, and other nations. Many have spoken out as we’ve struggled to come to terms with this obscene slaughter. We’ve heard helpful and healing words. We’ve also heard insensitive, thoughtless, and just plain cruel words.

One word I haven’t heard is “peace”. Perhaps we no longer believe peace is possible. Aurora is the latest in a string of more than twenty mass killings since Columbine High in 1999. During that approximate time period, we’ve lived through wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve seen continued   violence in the nation’s inner cities. Movies, video games, and popular music have reaped enormous profits from their glorification of killing and brutality. Our public political and religious conversations have grown increasingly hostile and polarized. Back in 1995 President Clinton worried that public political speech seemed to indicate that “violence is acceptable”. If anything, the climate of our public discourse has deteriorated even further.  In all these ways and more you could name, our world is anything but a peace-full place today.

The Aurora shooting reminds us that we’re caught in a “peace drought” every bit as serious as the meteorological drought gripping much of this country. I believe this “peace drought” offers the Church of Jesus Christ an unprecedented missional and evangelistic opportunity. For too long our response to the church’s declining membership and influence has been Olympic-level blame games and world-class pity parties. We’ve steadfastly ignored the justifiable criticism that many Christians don’t look and act much like Christ. One of the most pointed examples comes from Mohandas Gandhi’s  experience in South Africa early in the last century. Gandhi had left his native India to study in officially-Christian South Africa. The young Hindu eagerly accepted invitations to visit Christian churches. He was captivated by the teachings of Jesus. In fact, he seriously considered becoming a Christian. But he experienced religious and racial prejudice that he found clearly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. “I like your Christ,” he explained. “I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi saw no family resemblance between his acquaintances who called themselves “children of God” and Jesus their Elder Brother.

The “peace drought” gripping our nation, in fact our whole world, presents us who follow the Prince of Peace with an unprecedented missional and evangelistic opportunity. Imagine if your church became known in its community as an authentically peace-full place. Imagine if you became known as a place where people who couldn’t come together anywhere else could come together as family. Imagine if you became known as a place where individuals could learn to live peacefully in a noisy, warring world; where individuals and groups could learn constructive ways to resolve conflict; where families could learn how to live peacefully together, how to embed in their children the countercultural values of the Sermon on the Mount, how to work together to build more peace-full neighborhoods, schools, families, communities, and nations. Imagine if your church became known for supporting people who felt called to be “peacemakers” by taking political and social action, whether or not everyone agreed with every specific action. Imagine if your church became known as a community with a strong family resemblance to Jesus, the Son of God. That church would become a very different place. The community around it would become a very different place.

American Christians won’t recover our calling as “peacemakers” because a denominational leader decrees every congregation must do it. It won’t happen because some Christian publisher puts out a foolproof “magic box” that can transform your church for only $99.95. It will happen as two or three or a half-dozen gather together around Jesus and invite him to shape their lives in his image. It will happen as small groups of folks, with or without a pastor’s leadership, seek to let that “family resemblance” to Jesus form both their individual lives and their life together. It will happen as folks commit to being peacemakers together in small ways and find themselves led into bigger ways. It will happen the way the song says: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

 


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